Thus Spake Serge… Have A Say... Add comments Dec 312015 Read this. It may change your life (or at least your vantage of whisky). As always, Serge nails it. Whisky has no better spokesperson. Thanks, O Alsatian One. You lead, we follow. – Curt 12 Responses to “Thus Spake Serge…” Skeptic says: December 31, 2015 at 8:58 pm Wow, that was a tough interviewer… Reply Collegiate says: January 2, 2016 at 5:07 am It’s funny because when I read the interview, I almost felt that the questions were posed by himself, essentially giving himself a chance to air his thoughts on the subject. Obviously, the lack of an interviewers name had me suspicious to begin with I suppose. This though is probably the best piece I have read on the subject of NAS. I have long sworn off reading any more about the topic. I feel like I have wasted a considerable amount of my time in the last year or so reading about this topic, whether through articles or people’s posts. Through all this reading, my opinion has changed little on the subject – continue to embrace the NAS products that I have always enjoyed (A’bunadh, Corry, QC etc.), while harbouring a healthy sketicism of any newer ones. But, when Serge weighs in on a topic, it is always worth reading. I think he is right. There is a place for NAS whisky, provided that it tends to fall on the lowest rung of the price scale. Reply veritas says: January 2, 2016 at 9:17 am 1. I think Skeptic was being sarcastic in his comment. 2. Unless you are suggesting that A’Bunadh et al are on the lowest rung of the price scale, I have some difficulty with the consistency of your argument… Reply Jeff says: January 2, 2016 at 11:04 am And to give credit where it’s very deserved, Veritas’ point #2 is one of the most interesting new things said about NAS: if NAS is supposedly only justified with low-end products, why are the high-end ones the ones that people cling to while they wait for “the industry to act responsibly”, as these people neither want these products wiped out nor, evidently, care that they don’t have an age statement at their present price? What, neither price nor quality can justify marketing that is simply a lie about the nature of whisky itself? Bingo! Reply Jeff says: January 2, 2016 at 9:35 am I agree with the great majority of Serge says (except for the bit about “like NAS – 8 – 12 -15 – 18 – 25” – age doesn’t matter to whisky if it’s cheap enough? I thought age was “consubstantial”, not “costsubstantial”) and it’s all very WELL said. The point that the fact an NAS-labeled whisky is good is no evidence that its age isn’t important to its superior character – it still HAS an age, and it is still important, even if unknown – was well made, as was the point that many NAS cheerleaders find themselves in that position, not out of ignorance, but out of pretty transparent self interest; people know NAS is a lie and that they’re lying when they support it. For all its refreshing honesty about the true nature/dynamics of NAS, it’s certainly not a call to action, not even for people to stop lying about whisky for the sake of their mortgages. If I was doing the interview, I might have concluded the part about NAS with “OK, NAS is bad for whisky… so what are you saying should be done about it” and I would expect some kind of answer beyond “hoping it won’t get worse”. As indicated by Serge’s piece, the number of people who know the truth about age and NAS is fairly large compared to the number that will speak it (and I WOULD give a lot to see Dave Broom, Oliver Klimek and John Hansell write pieces with half the candour). Unfortunately, the number of people who will ACT on what they know in terms of purchasing is smaller still. Whisky has no finer spokesman, but that’s as irrelevant as it is true because NAS isn’t going to be talked to death anyway, so I don’t see the piece, good as it is, so much as any exercise in leadership as just Serge’s effort to salvage whisky credibility by showing he hasn’t consumed too much NAS Kool-Aid. Make no mistake: I’m glad whenever people get, and stay, off the fence on NAS, but, being off the fence, where ARE we now going, if anywhere? The natural question, then, is “what to do about it all?”, and it’s largely unanswered. Should we wait for another editorial next year while taking/recommending no consumer action? Bitch about how NAS is hurting whisky while buying/reviewing/promoting NAS? After all, “there are some good ones”, some people have bills, and there’s obviously no logic problem in the minds of many with trading product information for higher quality that trading product information simply can’t deliver. Maybe we should make whisky even better and “more flexible” and give up ABV as well (but only if the latest industry “discovery” says that it’s irrelevant, and only with certain bottles, of course). Ignorance is Strength, 2+2=5, and haven’t we always been for/against knowing/not knowing what we’re buying depending on whose sales it does or doesn’t help? “For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?” – Some guy living on Jura writing the precursor for the Macallan marketing manual. Strangely enough, I feel I’ve wasted more time writing posts on NAS than anyone has wasted reading them, particularly when people can see the negative effect this marketing is having instead of the “if only NAS was used responsibly” dream scenario that they wish for while supporting more industry crap and then wondering why or bemoaning how a lot of whisky is going to shit. The industry’s war on age IS a war against whisky as most have known it, both in terms of products and of basic common sense, and it’s a fight that will be lost unless people actually start fighting. Boycott NAS! Reply David says: January 2, 2016 at 7:09 pm Some very fine points there, but I disagree about whether knowing the age matters for cheap whisky. I can accept NAS on a whisky that is meant essentially (in my home were it found there) for sterilizing my kitchen drain. Here I’m referring to bottom shelf stuff, JW Reds, etc… My guess is that Serge feels the people who want these want cheap liquor to mix with something to make it palatable, and they don’t care how old it is. If only crappy bottom of the line whisky did not carry an age statement, that would be fine. When you use tired barrels and the end product is not suitable for sipping does it really matter if it is 3 years or 4? This stuff is made in such high quantities it’s not surprising the producers don’t want the headace f re-labelling every time the age changes back and forth. I would even suspect that Jeff, you would not mind so much either. Because then (as Serge jokingly wrote a while back) we would all guess the age is likely 3 years, we’d essentially all know what we were getting. It’s like “no name” branded groceries. Cheaper, and no one cares who the supplier is. But that isn’t the issue. We have NAS stuff selling for very high prices. It is being marketed as special stuff and it may well be. That’s where the issue is with NAS as I see it. I have to admit I’ve been reading Jeff’s stuff for a long time now and I feel it is having an effect. I don’t know if you feel your writing is a waste, but I don’t waste my time reading stuff that isn’t of interest. When Bowmore Tempest came out recently at the LCBO and I heard such good things about it I was regretting not buying it because it was NAS. Of course, I was elated to find out it has an age statement and rushed out to get one to share with my friends, but that’s besides the point. Jeff, you know I don’t share your optimism about the success of a boycott, and I may not share the same level of passion for the issue that you do, but if it’s something you think is important it’s never a waste of time to advocate for it. Reply Jeff says: January 3, 2016 at 3:09 am The issue about low-end NAS is another example of the distinction between “does one personally care to know the age” and “does age matter to the character of whisky whether anyone knows it or not” that we’ve seen in recent days – people might not care about knowing the age of Red Label if it’s cheap enough (yet, yes, it used to carry an age statement), but no one can tell me that its age doesn’t have a clear effect on the whisky that it is. The larger point isn’t whether age matters to you, me or the guy down the road; the point, and everything that follows from it, is that age matters to whisky because that’s why it’s aged in the first place, full stop. Ignoring, or “not caring”, about an aspect of production doesn’t make it irrelevant, and if age matters to whisky, then it matters to all whisky regardless of price tag or intended market niche. Although it’s a separate issue, Veritas’ point (that some people want to justify low-end NAS in theory while supporting, even championing, high-end NAS in practice) is as well made as the contradiction is clear. Serge certainly has nothing to be ashamed of here: he tells the truth where others will not. I commend, and don’t criticize, his comments as far as they go, but I do ask if they go far enough to change the NAS-dominated landscape that he takes exception with. OK, NAS is bad… now what? If it’s true that, like in the Untouchables, “everybody knows that where the holes in NAS are; the problem isn’t finding them, the problem is who wants to cross Diageo”, then the issue ISN’T so much education as it’s the nerve to act on what many people already know. If what people find “too extreme” about my position is that I say that, having seen the truth for what it is, people should be getting off their asses and acting on it – well, yeah… I don’t see the point of discussion that DOESN’T lead to action in this case, whether that action is ultimately successful or not; guaranteed wins aren’t the only battles worth fighting. People want to use NAS as a topic of whisky parlour room conversation, as a means to bash the industry, or to demonstrate their knowledge about whisky? OK, but I think it should go further than that because the effect of NAS on whisky is neither imaginary, nor beneficial nor inconsequential. Reply Brent says: January 4, 2016 at 9:14 pm Don’t know how many of you are on Instagram, but you’ll be depressed at the popularity of NAS on there. So many posts and like most social media there’s a distinct tendency towards narcisism (sp?). Lots of folks showing their collections and so many posts about enjoying so many NAS whiskies it becomes downright depressing. Reply Jeff says: January 5, 2016 at 3:26 am I’d believe it, if only because of the sampling of comment on just about any topic on YouTube, for example: varying from people who genuinely hold very odd opinions to those who will say that they do just to stir the pot. But, on the topic of whisky, here again, it’s a slippery slope of varying metrics: people can “enjoy” what they like (and it’s not a binary thing, people enjoy whiskies to greater and lesser degrees anyway and that’s what ratings are all about – even someone who rates a whisky in the 60s can usually find something good to say about it; Serge is great on this, and I think it’s both fair and accurate). So people can, and do, enjoy what they like – I like some NAS too, and would buy them again if they had age statements – but that fact, and those people, don’t address the question of “is NAS, and the removal of the age metric, making whisky better or worse overall”, which is one of the things that Serge was getting at. If being ignorant of what you’re buying somehow makes whisky better, maybe we should give up ABV as well and forget about all the “wood management” info that’s become such a rage to remove all possibility of “oak bias” while simultaneously embracing the general idea that what goes into a whisky is now suddenly somehow immaterial to how it comes out. Just as it’s true that age information and ABV (and casks) are “no guarantee” of relative quality, maybe we should remove distillery names as well on the basis that some Glenlivets are as good or better than some Broras and people shouldn’t be “distillery bigots”. Or maybe we should leave all these matters in the hands of producers and their marketers, to tell us what information matters, when and to what degree; after all, it’s not like they’ve already admitted that they’ve lied in the past just to make money from us, or that, going forward, they’d be irresponsible with being the sole guardians of whisky logic/reality. The end result of all this will be the arrival at the David St. Hubbins approach to whisky: “I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.” Some people are already well on their way to this, as shown by all the adherents to the Nigel Tufnel school of whisky: “I bought this whisky because Jim Murray, the guy who recommended it, says it goes to 11”.Two points from the Tap Cask group ARE irrefutable, however: “the more it stays the same, the less it changes”, and “there’s such a fine line between stupid and… clever, yeah, clever”. As for “bottle boasting”, it’s one of the most common aspects of whisky commentary that has limited appeal to me – but it certainly isn’t just found in conjunction with NAS, of course and it’s also on an sliding scale. I care about some people’s opinions of some bottles differently, and it varies both with the person and the bottle, whether or not I ever will, or can, try the whisky in question – and some comments/observations just have more universal application to me than others. This carries over into how much a particular bottle set one back as well, and concrete illustrations of price trending vs. bragging about good deals/how much one CAN spend on whisky can also often be in the eye of the beholder. I don’t say that there’s no place for this kind of commentary, however: some people like it and I just read around it probably to the same degree that others read around me on the topic of NAS (and sometimes I can’t blame them). Reply Skeptic says: January 5, 2016 at 8:09 am So Jeff, You say you like some NAS whiskies. Not surprising because some of them are good. But you won’t buy them out of principle. I respect that. So given that your boycott, over a year old now, has had no effect on the industry, who, besides you, is suffering from this boycott? Certainly not the industry. Just you. And anyone who is following your call to arms. Reply Chris 1 says: January 5, 2016 at 11:08 am Not sure if that is wholly true Skeptic. The kind of discussions going on here and on other forums and review sites are well monitored by the industry. The industry is having a very difficult time trying to defend and justify its current NAS policies and I’m starting to detect some serious differences of opinion among the big industry players. We, the anoraks and geeks willing to spend hundreds on high end booze, are the value added component in the whisky business. The industry could easily survive on the sale of blends and entry level malts, but we are the cream consumers who add status and credibility to their products. I believe they do need us. Reviewers such as Serge, Ralfy and Curt are widely read. Their opinions are taken seriously by their many adherents and by the industry. The so-called whisky journalists: Broom, Roskrow et al, are waffling a bit at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time before they too will have to become unequivocal on the subject of NAS. The effects of boycotts are not always immediately apparent nor are they necessarily effective in the short term. It remains to be seen further on down the road if we are making any appreciable difference. For me, it’s worth a try. Go, Jeff. Reply Jeff says: January 5, 2016 at 8:22 pm I can only assume that those who choose to heed the call are of drinking age and adults, so they must take responsibility for themselves and what they choose to do, even in the context of their “suffering”. I agree with Chris’ assessment, and I too think that there is a difference between not having won and not having an effect, but no one can promise anyone a rose garden or a win either way. Those who will fold will do so, just as those who will fight will do so, and the group that I appreciate, regardless of its size or success, is both obvious and brought its own fortitude because, ultimately, I can’t supply it. As I said, people have to be taking action with their purchasing, speaking out on various forums, and actually fighting for this if they want it to be successful. 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